And you thought the NSA program that scooped up your phone’s metadata was intrusive? When most Americans think of privacy and the intelligence community, they think of the National Security Agency. That is likely to change in coming years, as drones and satellites take photos and videos 24 hours a day, seven days a week, sometimes in the service of the government’s intelligence agency that provides geospatial information, the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA).

“The civil liberties discussion is coming,” Gary Dunow, the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency’s director of analysis, said simply. NGA works with the Department of Homeland Security and other law enforcement agencies in the United States to provide geospatial support. In addition to helping DHS with major events such as the Democratic and Republican conventions, the Super Bowl and such, NGA helps domestic authorities with a wide array of support for terrorist and law enforcement threats.

Because of the fact that NGA uses imagery and data from commercial satellites in time of war, the government created something called shutter control. It grants the government the power to stop the satellite companies from providing data or imagery to anyone but the US government for a period of time. The restriction is imposed in the license granted by the Commerce Department to
the companies.

Dunow was keenly aware of the need to ensure the quality of data, the safety of data and the availability of data from the new commercial providers. When I asked if shutter control was still needed, he offered this careful reply: “It’s not an obsolete issue. However, I think we may have to think about it differently in the future.” He didn’t elaborate.

All very dark and more than a little concerning.



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